Spending Money To Save It??? 

Some Thoughts on Black Friday

Blasts from the Past
My Full Spectrum column originally published in Moonshine Ink 12/14/2010

The grocery store clerk handed me my receipt and cheerily remarked, 'You saved $17.50 today, Ms. Ingalls!' As I took it and pushed it into my jacket pocket I smiled politely. 'Oh, that’s great… thanks!' I didn’t have any intention of dampening her buoyant spirit — a very rare commodity these days at any check-out counter. But my bafflement and incredulity was lurking just below the surface, as always.

How can I possibly be saving money and spending it at the exact same time?

With the penultimate example of spending to save, Black Friday, now behind us, I’m still obsessing about the phenomenon. It’s a uniquely American ritual that just leaves me shaking my head every year. As a self-certified news junkie, I can verify that Black Friday was the lead story for at least four full 24-hour news cycles on either side of the event. Reports are still flooding the wires, replete with totals and percents from the voracious shopping day. (In-store sales totaled $10.7 billion this year, up 0.3 percent from last year, by the way.)

One person who was just as happy about the Black Friday hubbub as those in the retail industry was former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas. Delay was convicted of illegally plotting to funnel corporate contributions to home-state legislative candidates in 2002 on Nov. 24, and could receive from five years to life in prison when he’s sentenced Dec. 20. But thanks to the immense amount of press coverage around Black Friday, his conviction went virtually unnoticed.

But back to the day itself. I just don’t think I’ll ever understand how people can camp out for days in front of a Best Buy in a pup tent to secure their place in line, or stand in sub-zero temperatures at 3 a.m. waiting for the doors of the Mall of America to open. Is it just me? I mean waking up in the pitch darkness, leaving the warmth of my home and the comfort of my family to queue up on concrete with a hoard of total strangers in hopes of scoring a deal on a 70-inch plasma TV? I wouldn’t even do that for a free one!

Not only must shoppers endure cold, crowded, dark, and impersonal conditions, but Black Friday can also be a life-threatening endeavor. A man at a Target store in Buffalo, N.Y., was trampled by crowds piling into the store when the doors were thrown open this year. 'At that moment I was thinking, I don’t want to die here on the ground,' he told local reporters after being pulled to safety and taken to the hospital for X-rays and painkillers. Apparently none of the 'tramplers' even paused to see if he was OK.

I guess there are a finite number of products available on Black Friday — all of which are much more important than a fellow human lying crushed and writhing under your feet if he happens to be in the way. Such behavior certainly seems at odds with the spirit of the season and makes me ever so thankful for my peaceful home in the relatively small hamlet of Truckee. A town void of big box retail stores, shopping malls, and people that would run over me to get to something new and shiny.

Merry Christmas to all and a healthy and happy New Year!